“Good evening, Reverend.”
“Oh, um, Mr. Flores. I don’t believe I—“
“I apologize for dropping in unannounced like this. I am certain it is quite disconcerting to have a member of The Defenders of America stop by your church to say hello.”
“Um, no, it’s not. But, well, I’m just not sure that this is—“
“I am also aware how I may be one of the last people you would wish to see right now.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t—“
“However, in light of today’s tragic events, I simply couldn’t stop myself from checking in.”
“Oh, now, that’s not really—“
“How is your wife doing, Reverend?”
“She’s okay, I guess.”
“Okay?” Flores frowned. “I was under the impression she was dead until I saw the item on the news this evening.”
“Me too, well, I mean–”
“With that in mind, I believe the word ‘okay’ may be a rather insensitive assessment of her current status. In fact, the way I hear it, not only is she currently on life support, but the doctors have given you very little reason to believe she will ever awaken from her coma.”
“You’re,” the minister choked on his words, “you’re right. Things aren’t good.”
“I’m sorry,” Mr. Flores said, grabbing the minister’s hands and looking him deep in the eyes. There was a long pause before he continued. “On behalf of myself as well as the other members of my former team, I wish to–”
“Your former team?”
“Yes,” the large man nodded his head. “I’m not sure I need tell you this, yet I feel as though you, of all people, deserve to know there is someone on your side. I tendered my resignation from the Defenders of America, effective immediately. After seeing what had happened on the battlefield and how the loss of human life seemed to be inconsequential to the rest of them, well, I came to the conclusion that I could no longer be any part of it.”
“Oh,” the reverend said with a sigh. “I see. You’re here so you can relieve yourself of some guilt, then. I’m sorry, but we don’t hold confessions here.”
“I am not here with the intention of unburdening myself.”
“Whatever it is, Mr. Flores, I’m quite certain that I can’t be of any help.”
“Please hear me out. You should be aware more than most, Father, that sometimes things must happen, terrible things, in order for the LORD’s work to be performed.”
“I’m not certain I follow, Mr. Flores.”
“I hope I don’t appear crass in saying so, Father, considering your current situation. I am merely offering the suggestion that perhaps what is currently going on in your life is not some random occurrence. Perhaps, it is, in fact, part of a larger plan which has been designed specifically for you.”
“Okay, I’ll bite. What sort of role are you talking about, Mr. Flores?”
“The only role any man of the cloth could ever wish for. To play an integral part in changing the future of the world.”
“I still don’t understand what you’re trying to say.”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures, do they not?”
“I’ve heard the phrase before, however I can’t say that–”
“You have shown your people desperate times; you have given us wine which makes us stagger. But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner to be unfurled against the bow. Save us and help us with your right hand, that those you love may be delivered.”
“Misquoting the Bible will get you nowhere, Mr. Flores.”
“Misquoting? Is that not a direct passage from Psalm 60?”
“More or less, yes, but—“
“I believe you are that banner which is to be lifted. I believe God intends for you to stand as his right hand to show the world his power cannot be denied. Even more importantly, how his power cannot be duplicated.”
The minister laughed. “I’d have to imagine there would be a better way for God to call me to such a mission than with you as the messenger.”
“Hasn’t he given you such a message, Father? The Anti-Christ’s head has arisen in the form of Buddy Hero, as well as the rest of those who would pretend to be our salvation. Your very own wife’s life has been placed into a critical condition by these false gods. I’m not certain how much more direct of a message you could be given.”
“What are you trying to say, Mr. Flores?”
“This is just an observation, that’s all.”
“I can’t help but notice that your observation, Mr. Flores, sounds an awful lot like you’re suggesting genocide.”
“Who said anything about genocide?”
“Are you trying to tell me that is not your intention here?”
“My intention is to do nothing more than to help guide you on the right path,” Mr. Flores said as he began pacing, his hands held behind his back. “However, now that you mention it, is genocide something which would truly be all that far out of the question?”
“If you’re talking about the cold-blooded murder of millions, then I think—“
“What about the Canaanites? Were they not all subjected to execution at the command of the one, true God?”
“Well, sure, but they were–”
“They were heathens, residing in the chosen land of the chosen people. Are you familiar with the Amalekites?”
“Fine, I see your point, but I just don’t see how God could want to use–”
“Your constant need to fight your calling reminds me an awful lot of another important man in history. His name was Moses.”
“Oh come now, Mr. Flores. Attempting to compare me to one of the prophets is blasphemy. I am but a simple man of God, here to spread his Gospel. I am no–”
“Moses himself was nothing more than a simple shepherd when God approached him within the burning bush.”
“I don’t know what you’re trying to do here, Mr. Flores, but I don’t like it. Don’t think I haven’t heard the rumors about your shady dealings with this city’s criminal element.”
“Is there not a place for sinners to do the LORD’s work?”
“I fear you have more in common with the Prince of Lies than the Savior of mankind. I think our conversation here is done.”
Arthur flashed a toothy grin. “Ah, but Father, I have something for you. A gift.”
“I’m not interested.” The minister turned and walked toward the altar. “You can show yourself the door.”
“Please, just a minute more of your time,” Mr. Flores pleaded as he grabbed the minister’s shoulder. “Give me your hand.”
The minister reluctantly held out his right hand in front of him, palm up. Mr. Flores grabbed the offered hand and placed one of his hands on top and one on the bottom.
“Close your eyes,” Mr. Flores said.
The reverend complied and felt the other man’s hands remove themselves from his a moment later.
“Alright,” Mr. Flores stated, “open them.”
The minister looked down at his hand and jumped back at the sight of it engulfed in flame. In slack-jawed awe he stared as he realized his hand did not burn, but was the source of the flame now heating the room. The cuffs of his brown jacket smoked from the heat.
“Our determined hero stands at attention upon his perch above the city’s streets, seeking out injustice in every corner of the metropolis he has dedicated his life to protect. Yet, even with his ever vigilant stare, this once proud municipality strains under the weight of an invisible evil, an evil which lurks within every alley way. Terrible troubling tragedies may befall each of these unsuspecting citizens without the guardianship of its sworn protector.
“This man, and his hardy group of heroic soldiers, stands ready to face off against the impending cataclysm. This band of brothers is the only defense yet left in this world of gray who dare stand against this unseen villainy and punch it square in the jaw. Their acts of bravado are not performed in expectation of recognition for their deeds, but done in the shadows, in the dark of night, and out of the public’s eye. Who, you may ask, would be so bold as to take the fate of this populace and direct it on its proper path without promise of riches and fame? Who would be so fearless as to spit in death’s face purely for the fun of it? There is only one foursome capable of such philanthropic feats, only–”
“Jeez Zero, cut it out already,” Buddy laughed, sitting on a tattered white lawn chair, nursing a warm can of beer. “Isn’t wearing the costume enough? You’ve been at this whole monologuing thing for an hour now. Sit down, relax, and have a drink already.”
“Yeah, dude,” Ryan smiled. “It’s a quiet night, okay. We haven’t heard anything over the scanner for hours.”
“First, as I have told you countless times already, this is a uniform, not a costume. Second, that’s just what the bad guys want you to think, chums. We must take our patrol times seriously. Terrible things happen when you least expect it.”
“Well,” Alexa said as she reached into the cooler to grab a new can, “you must not have been expecting it, because something terrible has happened.”
“Oh no,” Buddy gasped humorously. “You don’t mean. . .”
“Yep, we’ve run out of beer.”
“Damn,” Buddy yelled into the night air. “Damn it all to hell!”
Alexa and Ryan laughed heartily as Zero looked on unamused.
“I believe it was all of you who had requested I be the one to develop training exercises for the group to ensure we were ready in the event something like the return of Dominion were to ever occur again.” The group stopped laughing.
“Zero, look,” Buddy spoke as he stood and walked toward the only man he believed was capable of wearing a gaucho hat and manage to keep a straight face. “I’m sorry. This is important. I get it. We get it,” Buddy said as he gestured to Ryan and Alexa. “The thing is, you’ve had us sitting on this rooftop every night for the past six months. We haven’t had a night off since we took care of Damon. But tonight is quiet. It’s warm. It seems to me someone might want us to just take a night off to enjoy the starry sky.”
“Evil does not rest, chum. Perhaps if we weren’t here on the low-visibility confines of the rooftop of Maggie’s Diner, we would be able to see more of the treacherous acts being performed across the city.”
“Zero, dude,” Ryan said, walking toward the duo. “The police scanner is silent, the streets are silent, the whole city is silent. Chill out and take a night off already.”
“So,” Alexa began, “we giving up for the night, or. . .”
“As leader of The New Defenders, I order that we all continue patrol, under one condition.”
“So. . .” Alexa asked.
“Yes,” Buddy said, crushing his can as he spoke. “More beer, please.”
Alexa disappeared in a swift breeze and reappeared just as quickly with another six-pack in her hand.
“It’s a good thing your sister keeps that fridge fully stocked every night.”
“Oh sweet, sweet Alexa,” Buddy said as he neared her to retrieve a new beverage. “It’s all part of the deal I’ve struck with her. We keep her building safe; she ensures we’re well hydrated. It’s the least she can do.”
“Ha,” Ryan laughed. “The Diner was the center attraction in the destruction of the entire world, because of you. Having you anywhere near this place seems like she’s asking for trouble.”
“Hey, I got it back, didn’t I?” Buddy rebutted. “Zero, come on over and have a beer already. You look tense.”
“I can’t, chum. I just know he’s out there, waiting for me to rest.”
“Who?” Alexa asked. “Damon?”
“Perhaps,” Zero spoke darkly. “Perhaps someone far more sinister.”
“Alright, pal,” Buddy conceded, “You can have five more minutes to be on alert, but after that I expect you to shotgun at least one beer. Even the best soldiers need a little R&R.”
“Perhaps you’re right, chum. It is possible I have allowed myself to become overly stressed as I await the arrival of our next adventure. Maybe it would be–” Zero stopped speaking abruptly and looked over his left shoulder.
“Maybe it would be what?” Buddy asked, his back turned as he returned to his chair.
“Did you see that?” Zero asked as his eyes scanned the clear sky.
“See what?” Ryan asked. “It’s not another garbage truck you’re mistaking for a bank robbery, is it?”
“No, unforgiving Ryan. In the sky. I’m quite certain I saw something flying through it.”
“Probably just the 10:34 flight into Boston,” Ryan answered. “We see it every night.”
“But it is 10:38 young Ryan, and I saw the 10:34 fly past several minutes ago.”
“Looks like you’ve got 4 minutes left,” Buddy smiled as he took a glance at his watch. “Anyone got a set of keys for the man.”
“Be right back,” Zero spoke as he ran to the edge of the rooftop and jumped, floating through the air away from the rest of his team.
Buddy, still not looking, “He did it, didn’t he?”
“Yep,” Ryan said, already strapping his Thruster Pack to his back. The over-sized engine wailed to life loudly.
“Dammit. Someone needs to slip that guy a Valium or something. Alright Alexa, you ready for this?” Buddy stood and looked to see where Zero was headed.
“Yeah. You think he’s ready for us?”
“Is he ever not?”
“Good point,” Alexa said as she jumped into Buddy’s arms. “Take me away, handsome.”
“You keep talking like that and you’re going to give someone the wrong idea.”
“Who says it’s the wrong idea?”
“Cut it out, you two,” Ryan scowled as he jumped off the side of the building. He fired up his pack and took off after Zero.
“Alright kid, here goes nothing,” Buddy ran toward the two already in the night sky and leaped directly at the barely visible silhouette of Zero.
The wind rushed across his face as he flew toward his target. Buddy looked in the sky for any sign of what had set Zero off in the first place and could see nothing. A purple bubble appeared around Buddy and Alexa, causing them to slow and fly alongside the costumed vigilante.
“Took you long enough, chum,” Zero whispered.
“Yeah, yeah,” Buddy scowled. “Wanted to make sure my beer wasn’t going to get cold while I was away.”
Alexa removed herself from Buddy’s hold. “What’d ya find?”
“Nothing yet, but I know it was somewhere around here.”
“Hey!” Ryan yelled at he struggled to catch up. “Any chance you guys could go just a little slower? Some of us don’t have super powers.”
A crashing noise followed by the alerting of a car alarm sounded nearby. The group’s attention moved from the air to the ground simultaneously.
“There,” Zero exclaimed. “That yellow figure! That is what I had seen.” He decreased his altitude swiftly.
“You know, I still don’t understand why people have car alarms anymore. It seems the only time those things go off is in the middle of the night when I’m trying to sleep.”
“It would appear to have been a good choice for this particular car owner.”
“He’s got a point, Buddy.” Alexa elbowed Buddy in the ribs.
“Shh,” Zero whispered. “We should not wish to spook the criminal.”
The group touched down lightly just around the corner from where their bounty lay.
“Why not jump him and get this over with?” Ryan asked. “I mean, he’s just some stupid carjacker. We can easily overpower him.”
“Rule number one of crime-fighting, Little Red: never underestimate a criminal. For instance, he was initially not earthbound. If he has the capability of flight, it is possible he has other abilities we would not wish to be caught off guard against.” Zero took a look around the corner of the building they stood against and saw a figure lying on the ground, struggling against a large piece of fabric. Zero looked back at the group, raised his hand to the air and waved it forward.
“You want us to come with you?” Buddy asked.
Zero shot him an exasperated look. “Yes, chum,” he whispered. “Come.”
The group crept toward the flailing figure and reached his position just as he unraveled himself. He jumped to his feet when he saw the quartet which now surrounded him.
“Stand back!” he yelled with a shaky voice. “I have mace and I’m not afraid to use it.” He reached down to his belt and pulled out a small canister, pointing it rapidly from person to person.
Buddy chuckled to himself at the image before him. The man was young and tall, but lanky. He wore a bright yellow, form-fitting suit with black stripes going down the sides. The suit looked as though it had been home-made.
Across his belt was a series of devices, all of which appeared to be non-lethal deterrents one could easily find in a store, such as the pepper spray he was currently shoving in each of their faces. He wore a pair of yellow goggles on his eyes and on his back was the large piece of fabric he had been battling with only moments before.
“Chill out, pal,” Buddy chuckled. “We won’t have to hurt you if you just do what we say nice and easy.”
“You can’t make me do anything!” the man yelled. “I’m the Bumblebee!” From his belt he removed another device which extended into a long stick. Electric sparks sputtered from the end of it. “Don’t make me sting you!”
“Whoa, dude,” Ryan laughed. “Where’d you get the fancy cattle prod?”
“I’m serious. I don’t want any trouble.”
“Look kid,” Buddy spoke calmly. “If you don’t want any trouble, just put down the, um, stinger there and come along with us. We just want to have a little chat with you about what you were doing with that car there.”
“No, you’re coming with me to talk about whatever it was you were planning to do.”
“I had hoped to not have to do this the hard way,” Zero began, “but–”
“Wait,” Alexa said, placing her hand on Zero’s shoulder. “Bumblebee, sweetie. What do you think is going on here?”
“Don’t get fresh with me, girl. Just because you outnumber me doesn’t give you the right to do whatever you were planning on doing. I’m not afraid. I’ll take you all on if I have to.”
“Okay,” Zero said, cracking his knuckles. “If you say so.”
“Zero, chill out already,” Alexa stopped him again. “Look Bumblebee, my friend here has been itching for a fight for several months now. You really don’t want to give him an excuse. So, just tell me, what sorts of things are you getting into on this fine night?”
“I am the great Bumblebee–”
“Right, right–” Alexa interrupted, but he continued.
“Defender of the defenseless, helper of the helpless. I fight crime in the honor of those who deserve it. I am–”
“I hate to interrupt a good monologue,” Zero bellowed, “but are you attempting to state you are a superhero?”
“Of course, I am the great Bumblebee! All who worship evil’s–”
“That’s fantastic!” Zero yelled. “I thought we were the only ones left!”
“Oh, wait,” Bumblebee said with a relaxed voice as he dropped the cattle prod to his side. “Are you guys with the RLSH? I should have guessed. Especially with that sweet cape you’ve got there.”
“Thanks,” Zero replied.
“The RLSH?” Ryan asked.
“Um, yeah, the Real Life Super-Heroes. Have you guys been members long?”
“All my life, compadre,” Zero laughed. “Haven’t we all?”
“That’s what they tell me. Honestly, I’m still pretty new.” Bumblebee struggled to return the Stinger to its rightful spot on his belt.
“What are you talking about?” Ryan prodded.
“The Real Life Super Hero pro-social movement. People who care, taking on personas similar to those in comic books, going out and helping people stay safe. You guys testing me or something? Hazing the new guy or whatever?”
“Are you saying you don’t have superpowers?” Zero asked.
“Um, no, of course I don’t,” Bumblebee laughed. “Or, wait, am I supposed to be doing this in character?” He straightened up his posture and placed his hands on his hips in a heroic pose. “I’m the Bumble—“
“I still don’t understand,” Ryan interrupted. “Why are you dressed like this?”
“You know,” Buddy answered, “like our pal Zero here–in costume or whatever.”
“Uniform,” Zero corrected.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Bumblebee responded. “I was about to ask you guys why you weren’t in costume.”
“I mean, I thought that’s what the whole movement was about, costumes and justice.”
Zero cleared his throat in objection.
“Still seems a little overdone to me,” Ryan spoke. “I mean, what’s with the whole dollar store utility belt? How in the world do you think a little can of pepper spray and some wrist ties will save the world?”
“Hey now, these are very expensive. I got caught up in a massive online bidding war for this cattle prod. This is the exact one that was used in the filming of Idiot Stunts 3.”
“I stand corrected,” Ryan replied.
“Looks like I was wrong again,” Zero spoke sadly as he walked away from Bumblebee and the rest of the group. “Let’s head back to Maggie’s.”
“Wait,” Alexa disagreed, “we should probably still find out what Bumblebee was doing with the car. Maybe there’s something we could do to help?”
“Oh, yeah, that,” Bumblebee laughed nervously. “You see, I just bought this flying suit from a guy who makes them out in Taiwan and was giving it a test run, but, well, I kind of got tangled up in it in midair. I lost control and landed right on top of the car. It was a total accident. I was going to leave a note.”
“See,” Zero said, continuing his exit by rising into the sky. “Absolutely nothing to see here.”’
A loud pop was heard and two figures appeared in the street with the group.
“Whoa, holy cow!” Bumblebee exclaimed. “You guys sure have some cool tricks. You’re going to have to teach–”
“Damon!” Buddy exclaimed at the man who was accompanied by Agent Thomas Kent. Instantaneously, Zero rejoined the group as they all entered the all-too practiced defense formation Zero had taught them. Each hero stood shoulder to shoulder, forming a wall between them and their yellow-suited companion. ”But–”
“I’m so sorry for dropping in like this,” Damon spoke. “But we are in need of your help.”
Go to Chapter Two